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How Chicken Pox Works


Chicken Pox Risk Groups
A toddler with chicken pox. Children are most likely to give themselves a secondary bacterial infection by scratching.
A toddler with chicken pox. Children are most likely to give themselves a secondary bacterial infection by scratching.
Christopher Bissell/Getty Images

Although most cases of chicken pox will come and go in about a week, the following people should watch out for virus-related complications, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Infants younger than 1 year
  • People older than 15
  • Pregnant women
  • People with have a weak immune systems, such as cancer patients
  • People taking steroids to treat another disease, such as asthma

Babies younger than one year are particularly vulnerable to complications because they cannot receive the varicella vaccination, and their bodies may not have developed all of the antibodies, or specialized proteins, necessary to fight off the virus. Babies are born with some natural antibodies from their mother, but they only last from one month to a year. A mother who hasn't had chicken pox increases the chance for a severe outbreak because she does not pass along the virus-specific antibodies to her baby [source: Rauch]. 

Adolescents and adults make up only 5 percent of all varicella patients; however, they account for 35 percent of virus-related fatalities [source: CDC]. The older our bodies, the weaker our immune systems become, and the higher the likelihood of dangerous diseases developing from common infections, like varicella.

Routine chicken pox vaccination can avert potential chicken pox cases and reduce the chances of complications. In the next section, we'll learn about the varicella vaccine, who should get it and when.


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